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Orphan Black: Clone Dance Party
Moira OKeeffe

Thanks, I’m enjoying keeping an eye on the annotated copy of The Island of Doctor Moreau that is waiting “on the mantelpiece,” but I do find myself thinking more about Frankenstein, especially regarding the development of Cosima as both scientist and tragic monster. And yes: A patched-together Frankenstein of genre is a great descriptor for the show overall!

When this episode first aired, I fully expected Tony to show up and I was quite disappointed that he didn’t join the rest of the clones for the dance. However, the expansive interpretation in your wonderful post on “Orphan Black’s Transgender Genealogy” helps by showing that a genderqueer reading of the clones does not depend on Tony’s presence in a particular scene. I don’t think his absence has to do with genre, as Tony does contribute something new to the genre assemblage. I can’t think of a reason for Tony’s exclusion that doesn’t sound like an excuse to me, but given those two choices I would say gender, not genre.

Orphan Black: Clone Dance Party
Cael Keegan

Great piece! I’m glad to see others thinking and writing about Orphan Black’s rootedness in Shelly’s Frankenstein. I’ve often thought it odd that the show so heavily references The Island of Dr. Moreau instead of Frankenstein, which seems more in keeping with the show’s feminist meditations on gendered embodiment. Your points have me thinking about how OB’s assemblage of genre mimics the body of the Frankensteinian “monster,” made of disparate parts sewn together. The show itself also has this monstrous structure, which does indeed hinge on Cosima as the “monster” turned scientist-creator. The other text I work with that has this “queer” structure of the monster seizing medical authority and scientific power is Rocky Horror Picture Show—also a pastiche and also heavily influenced by the Gothic.

So, what do you make of Tony being missing in the clone dance party scene? Does this have more to do with genre, or with gender?

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Cael Keegan

What a great conversation! I, too, have struggled to incorporate television into my courses, largely because the older model of 22-episode broadcast seasons proved far too ponderous. With the advent of streaming television and the new model of 10ish-episode seasons, this has become far more possible and I’m looking to inject more TV into courses that are film-heavy. Two shows that would likely work well in my classroom (I teach Queer and Trans Studies), in addition to Orphan Black are Orange is the New Black and Transparent. I am thinking of including all of Transparent in my LGBTQ Identities class as a show that models transgender identity formation.

Cael Keegan

I love this call to attention on the body and embodiment, which I think has become particularly pressing for television as we have moved into digital and hi-def televisual technologies that permit us to think less about just the face, and literally see “extra” things in the visual field. How fitting that a show like OB, which is thematically about the conundrum of “extra” bodies and the way in which they problematize subjectivity, should also be pioneering new uses of the “extra” in casting and crediting! Digital worlding has fundamentally changed how actors act, and also what bodies can do on screen. What we now see is even a blending of bodies, rather than the analog “stand-in” model of the stunt double or the previous understudy role in the theatrical tradition.

Liza-Anne Cabral

I’ve been thinking about this for a few days now, trying to come up with a program that fits all of your criteria (specifically your desire for a program segmented for ads) but still offers up the opportunity to facilitate the same discussions that Orphan Black has allowed you to have with your students. Needless to say, I’ve been struggling. I thought about FX’s American Horror Story for discussions on narrative and genre, as well as race, class, gender, etc. but feel that it may be far too popular of a program. I then considered Top of the Lake (supposedly getting an additional season), which fits your desire for a shorter program and would facilitate many of the same discussions, but is (in my opinion) a very difficult program to handle and probably not one you want to “force” onto students.

I then thought about some series that have ended more-or-less recently and landed on the SyFy/Space co-production Being Human (“US” Version) as an option, which I believe fits a majority of your criteria. The series was never majorly popular. It’s first season is only 13 episodes, it’s a rather imperfectly perfect blend of comedy and horror, and it has a semi-diverse cast (for discussions on race, class, gender, etc.). As a “remake” of the UK version the series would also be able to facilitate discussions about international co-productions and content.

Even as I offer Being Human though I can’t help but feel that, at least for the time being, Orphan Black really is the best program to use. I can only begin to imagine the conversations that the series has brought up in your classroom that you didn’t expect (say on acting or visual effects, etc.) that another series probably wouldn’t offer. As the series continues to gain popularity though, do you think you’ll continue to use it for your class as the unifying whole? Or, perhaps, would you shrink it’s usage down to only a single episode and use a different series for the class’s season long analysis?

Zoë Shacklock

Thanks for your thoughtful response, Staci! You very astutely pull out the phrase “in her own right”, which reveals a lot about how we value the labour of performance. It reflects the privileging of the individual over the collective - a performance is valuable when it can stand alone, in its “own right”, not when it’s tangled up with others. Your thoughts also raise issues relating to the industrial politics of performance: if Alexandre was uncredited in the first season, would she have been paid less? Pay rates for extras certainly vary depending on whether dialogue is involved, again reflecting hierarchies of labour. In this sense, there are very material implications for the way we value performance that would be interesting to explore.

I also love the examples about Alexandre’s visibility in the series. The nurse cameo has always interested me. Cameos tend not to work within a narrative diegesis: for audiences in the know, they explicitly call upon extra-textual knowledge and jolt us out of the narrative for a brief moment, and for unaware audiences, they’re essentially invisible. In this sense, Alexandre isn’t really ‘playing’ a nurse here - again, she’s playing a body in space. For the fan audience, her body seizes our attention, occupying the foreground for a moment; and for the rest of the audience, she is simply background scenery, filling in the space of the scene like most extras. Consequently, her visibility depends entirely on the audience’s own understanding and perception of performance hierarchies in Orphan Black.

Staci Stutsman

Fantastic post! I’m so glad that someone is writing about Alexandre this week as she plays such a phenomenal (yet mostly invisible role) in the series. What I love about the BBC behind the scenes clip you have chosen is that it so clearly foregrounds and calls attention to Alexandre’s labor. It’s especially telling that they refer to her as an actress in “her own right.” This phrase calls attention to the performance work done by a double and also calls attention to the labor behind performance, even when that labor is uniquely hidden. (It’s also interesting to note that in season 1, Alexandre is uncreditted, according to IMBD, but her role as body double becomes credited in season 2). More on Alexandre’s labor here:

You call attention to the ghost of Alexandre’s performance and what I find most fascinating are the -visible- traces of Alexandre. For example, moments when her hand or arm are -not- edited out. I’ve read elsewhere that there are moments in which they have kept in some of Alexandre’s body parts (for example, when Sarah and Cosima are in Cosima’s bed together toward the end of season 2). They also wrote a small role for her in season 2! She plays one of the nurses when Helena is artificially inseminated:

I provide these two examples to further underscore the points you make here. Alexandre’s (invisible and visible) presence on the show offers up new ways to think about the multiplicity of acting bodies and the performance of body doubles.

Staci Stutsman

Yeah- Homeland would work really well for that! When I taught Homeland, I taught the first two episodes of the first season in order to discuss Othering in the media. The second episode ends with Brody praying in the garage. It was quite interesting to see how many of them took this as a definitive sign of his “evilness.” It would be interesting to screen the series throughout the semester and have them note moments when reversals happen and note how Othering works hand in hand with the moral legibility of the series and how Homeland’s very premise rests on a continual renegotation and then assertion of moral legibility.